By: Saurabh Mehrotra
In a chaotic city like Mumbai, any attempt to organise it comes as a breeze of fresh air and the draft development plan of the city is one such initiative that has attracted a lot of attention over the last few days. While the plan that has a number of positives and at a fundamental level addresses several key concerns plaguing the city, it somehow misses out on few important aspects that would go miles in improving the quality of life of individuals in the city in terms of transportation, pollution on other social parameters.
Transparency — There is a bold initiative to bring various development regimes under a single document and if it is implemented in its present form, it will go a long way in de-mystifying the existing complex web of various circulars, amendments and government resolutions and provide one simplified document to refer that has been a long pending demand of the sector. While it reduces the ambiguity, it also reduces the scope of ‘creativity’ to approach the development approval under different regimes.
Unlocking value Mumbai needs infrastructure investments on a very large scale and this requires exceptional amount of resources to be generated through all possible means. For example, Municipal Corporations may be able to generate enormous value through development right sales and in the process break the monopoly of a few developers in the TDR (transfer of Development Rights) market. However, in the absence of an infrastructure augmentation plan, efficient utilisation of these funds still remains a big question.
Uniformity — The proposed development plan would finally bring in the much needed de-linking of a plot history and the permissible development on the plot. The development potential of the plot rather being dictated by whether the plot was occupied by slum /cessed building/mill land/MAHADA colony etc. , would now be governed by uniform development regulations of the area. Also the (floor space index )FSI gap between island city and suburbs would diminish resulting a more uniform development across the city. The building skyline for a region would be more uniform. However, instead of a rigid milestone-linked transition, a more adaptive approach would be ideal. The interim circular for the transition period distinguishes projects with plinth cc to continue as per old regulations. I however feel that an important consideration should also be given to large scale redevelopment projects that do not have a cc but have reached a stage where tenant consents are in place and significant monitory expenditures have already been made. The real test of a development plan is — how much does it contribute to improving the livability or quality of life of the citizens? The established parameters for measuring the quality of life and the impact the development plan may have on each of them are worth analysing.
Affordability — Increasing the FSI along the suburban rail corridor in principal is a good tool to improve affordability. However, in this case it is a misdirected tool as higher development rights are available at a significantly higher premium. At the current ready reckoner and TDR rates, any incremental housing, taking advantage of these additional FSIs would not be feasible at a price below Rs 15,000/sqft. A one BHK house would have to command an overall price in excess of Rs 1 crore. And, to be able to afford a house valued at Rs 1 crore, a household should have an annual income of about Rs 25 lakh which is true for roughly 10 per cent – 12 per cent of the households. I wonder how many of such individuals use suburban rails as their mode of transport. Overall it will have no impact on improving affordability.
Travel Time – Transit Oriented Development planning is incomplete without a comprehensive transport study. Any rail or road commuter of Mumbai even without a study can conclude that on the significant peak time and peak direction there is over-utilisation of the existing infrastructure. Increasing the density along these over utilised transport corridors, in the absence of a comprehensive transport capacity augmentation plan, is wishful thinking and would only add to the existing burden on the already crumbling infrastructure and would result in further increase in average travel times.
Travel Distance — On account of lack of any efforts to either bring affordable houses closer to office concentration or vice versa, the travel distances remain constant.
Pollution — This continues to be an issues as more houses in an area would result into more vehicular intensity, which coupled with higher transit times, will add to higher air pollution and bad quality of life.
Social Health — We are already witnessing ill-effects of high density in the form of rapid proliferation of communicable diseases and any further increase in density will add to the misery.
To sum up, although the draft development plan makes some progress on aspects of transparency, uniformity and alternate means of finance to support city development, it misses a larger opportunity to improve the declining livability of Mumbai and to position it amongst its peer group of global cities on the Quality of Life Index.
The author is director, advisory services, Knight Frank India.